Commentators around the web today are in a great confusion. Is it a coup, is it a revolution? The fact is most of these people have no political experience or historical perspective and so cannot understand what they are witnessing.
Some, however, are desperate to rebuild some order that they can feel comfortable with. Noah Feldman at Harvard falls into the latter category. He dismisses this week’s events in Egypt as a “mob” action. He is unable, more likely unwilling, to acknowledge that this is the next stage in a long process that aims to establish democracy and genuine human freedom in the middle east. He wants social events there and elsewhere to fall into the categories he learned as a young law student. He seems to forget that law is a secondary institution, second to actual social and economic reality. It is important but it is a function of more important social forces.
Feldman suggests the imposition of Morsi – a compromise reached by those very social forces last year – was the result of a rule of law, a constitutional process. But there can be no stable rule of law in a country in the condition that Egypt finds itself until some fundamental social issues are resolved. That is the nature of the revolutionary process that began with the overthrow of the Mubarak regime. The process is far from finished. Wishful thinking by liberals like Feldman will not shorten or simplify that process.
The situation emerging now in Egypt and the middle east, and elsewhere, resembles the “triangle of forces” that characterized the Cold War era. This framework was first described by Hal Draper in his essay on the Czech coup in 1948 (link below). In the Cold War the three basic camps were the wider working class, the emerging new authoritarian bureaucrats led by the Stalinist movement, and a capitalist order that was still on its back in much of the world.
The glue that held the triangle together was the crisis-ridden nature of capitalism itself, a crisis-prone tendency that continues today. The Stalinist movement emerged as an authoritarian movement based on anti-capitalist rhetoric. It aimed to impose a new form of social and economic power that relied on (brutal) bureaucratic and authoritarian institutions to force countries through some form of economic development that could compete with the traditional market based capitalism. Its “success” was based on the its appeal to the victims of capitalist crisis. I used this framework to explain the development of Nicaragua’s Sandinista revolution in my recently published book, Rights and Revolution.
Today, the emerging social forces are somewhat more complex but there is without doubt a new diverse global working class (explored in my book “From ‘Che’ to China”), albeit one without nearly enough work, a new global capitalist elite with allies in new bureaucratic forces in the so-called “emerging market countries,” and an opportunistic authoritarianism taking several forms including and perhaps most significant right now, Islamic fundamentalism, but also found in the movements loosely allied with the fundamentalists like Chavez of Venezuela, the Chinese stalinists and others.
Feldman and those who want to condemn the ouster of Morsi as a “coup” are not, of course, allies of the authoritarian fundamentalist camp. They are, instead, more worried about what they call “chaos” represented by the global working class. Since that is a class they cannot control it sends them into a frenzy as this new social force emerges to exercise power, as workers are doing in so many parts of the world today, whether in the form of Occupy Wall Street or the movements for social equity, transparency and democracy in places like Syria, Turkey and Brazil.
One tactic of those who fear the events in Egypt or Syria is to suggest that they are nothing but tools of the fundamentalist camp. This view point is widely held on the far right. Others, typically among the far left, attempt to dismiss these new movements by saying they are nothing but tools of the CIA. Though emanating from the back benches of global politics these rhetorical interventions serve those front benchers, like Feldman, who want to quell the new movements. These amount to an attempt to flatten the triangular complexity of events into two dimensions and thus force their audience to pick a side, namely their side. Perhaps it is not a surprise that Feldman’s intervention appears on the media outlet of billionaire Michael Bloomberg.
But despite these attempts to dismiss the new movements, there is, in fact, a real and autonomous social and democratic movement emerging in these countries that is not under the thumb of either the CIA or al Qaeda. That is the new reality. It is an inevitable by product of the globalization process that has now replaced the Cold War. Feldman’s “mob,” is, in fact, the new face of humanity struggling to gain its footing in the new era. We in the west should applaud and support its efforts. And there is no better time for us to begin than on the 4th of July weekend.